4. A Risky Conversation

The Impossibilities of God in a Broken World, the story of Christmas, Meditations:

4. A Risky Conversation

Lk 1:26-28  26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.’

Really?   Possibly there is no passage among the ‘Christmas stories’ that is as romanticised as this particular one, of the angel Gabriel coming to Mary. Let me put before you an imaginary modern scenario. Let’s suppose you are a teenage girl who has fallen for a royal prince or, if you are American, for a son of the President. Preparations are being made for your wedding day. Every ounce of your life is being dissected by the media, but the good news is that you come from a good family, have never had a meaningful boyfriend, have never gone the way of so many of your peers and so have never slept around. You are a good person and a Christian and you regularly attend the most respectable church in town. You are being groomed for public life with this man of your dreams. He thinks you are wonderful, as do his family, and your family likewise are elated at the coming nuptials. And then one night, on your own – and you are sure you are awake – a glowing figure appears as if out of the air and tells you he is an angel of God – and yes, you are sure you are awake – and he tells you that you have been chosen by God to act as an example to the people of your country, of humility and piety, another Mother Teressa. Yes, you can continue to get married but you will forsake riches, affluence and the lifestyle of a princess / lady of the first family, and you will devote your life to caring for the poor. How do you respond?

Mary: I’m afraid I cannot think of a parallel drama to the one facing Mary and the above is the nearest I can get. You, in the above scenario, are being told to enter into a life that is totally contrary to everything you expect and is expected of you. Mary is being told she will enter into a life totally contrary to everything she expects and is expected of her. Mary is a good Jewish girl. She is engaged to be married to a good Jewish boy. It is quite likely it is a marriage that has been agreed between their parents. They will go through all the traditional celebrations that young Jewish people getting married go through. Afterwards they will set up home together, have children and no doubt be pillars of the community. They both live in Nazareth which, although it has now become a city of over seventy-six thousand today was, back then, a mere village of between two and four hundred people. Everyone knows everyone else. In fact, there may only be about twenty (if that) family groupings that have lived there for generations, and everyone knows their place and everyone is respectable. There is no room for disreputable, and disreputable means those who do not keep to the beloved Law of Moses which their rabbi faithfully teaches them. One man, one woman and “a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (Gen 2:24) That is how it is in this traditional community and this is how it must stay. The conversation that follows is, it would appear, from God’s point of view, a risky one. This girl could have screamed and rushed out of the room – but she didn’t.

Joseph & the others: But, we said, Mary is engaged to Joseph and Joseph is a good upright boy, a growing pillar of the community, a carpenter following in his father’s footsteps. He is there in the synagogue every week and he understands the Law. Yes, it may appear harsh at times but that is only to preserve the sanctity of marriage within the community and thus bring stability to the community. Infidelity is frowned upon – severely! If Mary heeds and goes along with what this angel is saying – “You will conceive and give birth to a son,” (v.31) and “‘The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” (v35) – she is going to be in serious trouble with her fiancé and with her community. What the angel is saying is humanly impossible and so there is no way that she can expect anyone to believe her. If she goes along with this, she is on her own! Do you remember me saying previously that the Christmas story is often uncomfortable, if not harsh and difficult? I started by saying I believe we romanticise this story because I don’t think I have ever heard a preacher spelling out just how difficult it must have been for Mary.

This Incredible Girl: I suggested at the end of the first introductory study that it is only when we see the impossibilities confronting these people and the harshness and difficulties that they went through, will we truly see the wonder of these events and, I might add, of the people concerned. Nowhere is this truer than in the account of Mary with the angel Gabriel. I have sought, very inadequately I feel, to convey something of the difficulties facing Mary and if we can really take this in, then, and perhaps only then, will we really appreciate the sort of young woman that she is. She is young and she is about to become alone, very alone and she is going to enter into an experience that is common to most women, and yet without the love of a man who took her into that experience. She doesn’t know how what the angel says can be: “How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?” (v.34) and the fact that he explains, “The Holy Spirit will come on you,” (v.35) really doesn’t help a lot. Yes, he does seek to bring encouragement by explaining that, “Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month,” (v.36) but that is probably not going to provide a ‘how’ explanation that most of us would want. Yet we find at the end of this episode before the angel leaves, “I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May your word to me be fulfilled.’ Then the angel left her.” (v.38)

An Incredible Woman: It all happens and miraculously, without the help of Joseph or any other man, she conceives and brings into being the baby Jesus, the Son of God, the Saviour of the World. Twelve years later, as Jesus comes of age (in Jewish terms) he stays behind in Jerusalem and after he has been found by his concerned parents we read, But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.” (Lk 2:51) She thinks back perhaps to the birth narratives and all she was told by Gabriel and now as Jesus speaks of his father (not Joseph) she wonders. Another eighteen years on she is at a wedding where the wine has run out and she tries to prod Jesus into action to help – she has high expectation of him – but when he holds back, she knows otherwise and simply tells the servants, Do whatever he tells you.” (Jn 2:5). Three years later she is at the foot of the Cross watching her son die (Jn 18:25-27) and perhaps she remembered all those thirty-three years ago, the words of the aged Simeon in the Temple, “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Lk 2:35) And so it was. Her walk through life was truly a lonely and often times painful walk – but she was available to God for Him to work out His purposes through her.

Availability: No, there was nothing comfortable or great and glorious about any of this – from a human perspective at least. I mentioned previously I had earlier in this month started writing ‘Micro Advent Thoughts’. This was the one about Mary: Advent Micro Thought no.2. Why would God choose a teenage girl, a good girl, a godly girl, a righteous girl, to carry His Son, without a visible father, so that people would gossip about a girl who no longer looked so good, no longer looked so godly, so righteous? Because God doesn’t worry about gossips, God looks for those who are good and godly and righteous – and available – through which to perform His purposes, even though others will misunderstand, because the uncomprehending gossips will fall away but the will of God will remain for ever, transforming the world. Availability.”

A friend from the States added, “Availability” has been a recurring word this year for me. It’s good to hear it again. Settling into a new area this past year, one of the things we’ve worked at is making ourselves available to serve. I believe that’s where opportunity begins with God. After availability, then comes empowerment and equipping for service.” Wise words which fit perfectly here: “after availability then comes empowerment and equipping for service.” Heed that wisdom.

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14. A Most Remarkable Message

Focus on Christ Meditations: 14.  A Most Remarkable Message

Lk 1:31-33    You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.

We have seen the dream that Joseph had in which the angel said,you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins,” and we commented then that this was shorthand for all we can find in those messianic verses at the beginning of Isa 61 (and which Jesus read in the synagogue – Lk 4:17-19) and we considered what that actually meant as it was rolled out in history. I don’t know, as a child, if you ever did painting by numbers where bit by bit you followed the colours designated by each number and the picture gradually grew. I feel this search is a bit like that.

My intent has been to build up a picture from the verses of the Bible of the mystery from the Old Testament, gradually being revealed in the New, and yet not obvious except to just a few. If each person who came to know what was happening lit up, we would have seen Zechariah light up, then Elizabeth as he communicated in writing with her, then Mary, then Joseph, then the shepherds at about the same time that Simeon was picking it up and to the east some Magi were being alerted – but they are the only ones we are told about (possibly plus Anna in the temple). Half a dozen individual and two groups, and that is it. It is a very low-key happening. But as these people share it with those closest to them – Zechariah and Elizabeth told those near them, no doubt Mary and Joseph told their close families, the shepherds certainly told whoever would listen before they went back to their sheep, and perhaps Simeon told people around in the temple, and the Magi certainly let the cat out of the bag, as we might say today, when they turned up in Jerusalem, asking questions about the Coming One who had arrived!

So yes, there were a growing number of people who were being alerted to what was happening, but whether those hearing it second hand believed it, is another thing. Even more, and this is where I want us to focus at this moment, if you were one of the first people to be told you might feel very much alone.

Imagine you had a brother or sister who worked for the Government in biological warfare research, and one day they came to you and said, “I can’t keep this to myself any longer, I have to tell someone. We have been working on a virus, an incredibly virulent virus that sterilises anyone it meets so they can never bear children. It works. We’ve tried it on all sorts of animals and it works every time – and it has escaped!  Hardly anyone else knows about it yet but the entire population WILL become infected. The world will never be the same again, and unless we can find some antidote – which is very unlikely – within a hundred years the entire population of the world will have gone. But you mustn’t tell anyone, we don’t want there to be widespread panic.” So there you are. You are just one of a very few who know what is going on. It is a lonely place.

So now back to Mary and her encounter with the angel Gabriel. What is strange is that she doesn’t ask, “But why me?” That doesn’t seem to cross her mind. She simply asks how she can fulfil God’s will because she is not married and it’s within marriage that children are conceived. (Oh if only our unrestrained western society could get back to that place!) This particular mystery is only resolved when you consider what we are told about her: she is a virgin pledged to be married (v.27). Apparently she has found favour with God (v.30) and, I suggest, God bestows favour on those He chooses and He chooses according to subsequent availability and openness to Him. This is confirmed by her comments at the close of the conversation: I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.” (v.38)

We can’t pass this by without letting the light of this situation shine back on us. How many of us, confronted with a strange word from God in scary circumstances would have responded with such a depth of faith?

But look at what Gabriel says about her son: “you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” (v.31-33) There it is again, all the things we’ve been seeing in previous studies: Jesus or Joshua which means, ‘the Lord saves’, he will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, or ‘the Son of God’.  Now up until that point Mary might have interpreted this as meaning, he will be very godly, but see how it ends – “he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” What?

We back in the dilemma of the Isaiah prophecies. Of whom can this be said except God? This child will be God????  Could Mary comprehend that? I doubt it, because even we today, with all the revelation we have, still struggle to understand how Almighty God can inhabit a human body – the Incarnation is still a mystery. And for us it gets worse. I have lost count of the times I have written about the ‘indwelling Holy Spirit’ the Holy Spirit who inhabits every believer. How do we handle the reality of that?

How easily we speak these things and yet the utter reality escapes us. So I have another question mark over this story that is so familiar to us every Christmas and it is this: why did God bother to tell both Mary and Joseph this about Jesus? Did they understand it? Only at a superficial level. Did it change the way they brought him up? I doubt it, they were clearly both righteous people given over to God’s will for their lives. We might ask of us in church life today, why does God give us prophecies today (why did He give to Isaiah and the other prophets?), why, when sometimes the prophecy is simply a declaration of His sovereign activity, doesn’t He just get on and do it regardless, why tell us?

The unbelievably simple answer has got to be that because He loves us, and He loves to tell us what is on His heart (after all, we’ve got an entire book full of it!) and involve us, in understanding at least, in what He is doing. Sometimes He says it so that we can cooperate with Him and play our specific part – as was the case for Joseph who changed his mind and married Mary. The mystery about The Mystery is resolved in this: God shared the intentions of the Godhead for all who would see in the following centuries and whose hearts would be lifted by what they read. It didn’t happen in their time but they would have rejoiced that it was going to happen and that in turn would have provided fuel for worship.

To reflect upon: when we have read these prophecies (and perhaps when we have received our own personal prophecies), have our hearts lifted with praise and worship and can our response be that of Mary: I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”

12. Why a Virgin?

Focus on Christ Meditations: 12.  Why a Virgin?

Lk 1:26-28   In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

We have already touched on the fact of the virgin birth twice already in our examinations of some of the Isaiah prophecies but as we move into the New Testament historical context we need to face this claim within Matthew, a claim that is really very low key in the text of the New Testament. Let’s look at various aspects of this.

Historical struggles: It is interesting to note how the early church clearly struggled with this mystery, in the various Creeds. The earliest of the creeds, the so-called Apostles Creed starts out, “I believe in God almighty And in Christ Jesus, his only Son, our Lord Who was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,” whereas the Nicene Creed of AD 325 says, “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, ……For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven; by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.” Another well-known ‘creed’ of about 5th/6th centuries, the Athanasian Creed, goes to great lengths to spell out the relationships and origins of the Trinity but is utterly silent on the ‘virgin birth’.

Others in more recent centuries have also obviously struggled with this, for example, the Westminster Confession of Faith declares quite fully but with a noticeable absence, “The Son of God, the second Person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance, and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon him man’s nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof; yet without sin: being conceived by he power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, of her substance. So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man.”

Practical Exposition: Now Matthew’s Gospel is very specific and he approaches it with several clear refuting arguments that whereas the meaning if ‘virgin’ in the Isaiah prophecy could simply mean a young, unmarried girl, that was not what happened in history.

Overall picture: Then Matthew explains circumstances that deny that: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.” (v.18) He maintains i) she is only pledged to Joseph, ii) the couple have not come together sexually, and iii) her conception is purely a work of the Holy Spirit.

Joseph’s response: “Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” (v.19) Joseph, is a righteous young man, and i) is sure that the child is not his, and ii) Mary is obviously sticking to her story of the angel Gabriel and iii) there are no other young men who could be candidates for fatherhood here

Joseph’s dream: “But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” (v.20) This dream is so strong and clear that he is utterly convinced and so, “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.” (v.24,25)

This complete turnabout by Joseph cannot be explained by any other way: i) There is no reason for him to change his mind, his righteous approach to life has been affronted, ii) If he had changed his mind there would have been no reason for him to make up some super-spiritual story, he could simply say, ‘I will graciously forgive here and be the father of her child.’ iii) Such a false story would thus be untrue and would ever be on his conscience and we know he is a righteous young man who would not condone such an approach.

It is because Matthew has found out this information that he attaches the Isaiah prophecy to the account as if to say, “Isaiah, speaking into the future meant that the Coming One would be born of a true virgin without any male involvement.”

Why? Here is a mystery which has brought denial from skeptics and questions from church scholars through the ages. Why should it have been like this? The argument about sinlessness is slightly questionable because although Joseph’s sinfulness is excluded, Mary’s isn’t! Unless you can say – and we can’t – that Mary was sinless from birth and therefore a unique human being, we still have human genes at least from one sinful parent. So why a virgin birth?

The answer is so enormous that it passes most of us by. We have seen in the Isa 9 prophecy those incredible words that this being is going to be God incarnate, and in the earlier prophecies this is Immanuel, God with us. If God wasn’t in and part of this baby when it was born, why

  • did Mary tell of her encounter with the angel Gabriel, including the fact that when she maintained she was a virgin, he declared, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Lk 1:35)
  • did the Wise Men want to worship him? (Mt 2;2)
  • should Elizabeth under the anointing of the Holy Spirit speak of the baby Mary was carrying and refer to Mary as, “the mother of my Lord”? (Lk 1:43) She, by revelation, knew who he was!

No, the testimony of both Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts are in complete harmony. If it didn’t happen at conception when did God take up residence in this male boy in such a way that was unique so there was clearly a oneness that has never been seen to occur in any other human being. In the apostolic writings of the New Testament, there is never any dichotomy of description, there is never any dividing out the physical from the spiritual when the apostles refer to Christ and there is never any record of the making of a new man-God being. Don’t confuse the coming down of the Spirit on Jesus at baptism, because it is clear before that that Jesus knew exactly who he was, the unique Son of God. But why not involve Joseph? Because that was how God wanted to create this new being in which He Himself would reside from the moment of conception, and thus the conception was a miracle that involve both divine and human elements.

To reflect upon: When scripture is not clear at first sight do we find ourselves thinking negative thoughts or do we have a determination to see how it works as it says?

8. God turn up?

ADVENT MEDITATIONS No.8

8. Can God turn up?

Luke 1:26-28 In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.”

It’s sometimes difficult to get behind the Christmas story. Many of us know it too well. Take the angel out of the story above and what have we got left? A young teenage girl (because that’s what she would have been) who is engaged, we would say, to a man called Joseph. He’s a good Jewish boy with a pedigree going right back to David, one of the earliest kings of Israel. She is a young girl and so, in the light of the strict culture of that day, would not have had any sexual relations with Joseph (as the later story will very clearly indicate). Yet she is going to conceive, the story is going to tell us, without the help of a man and have the baby Jesus.

Now to cope with this, you can take only one of two possible courses: either what we’ve written above is not true and she got pregnant by Joseph or some other man, or God turned up and we have a miracle of conception. You’ll only take the former option if you’ve set your mind to believe that God can’t turn up and enable Mary to conceive without a man. But if you’re willing to even consider the thought that there is a God, why should you think that He couldn’t do this? If there is a God, then He has to be the Ultimate Being that philosophers go on about and if He is this, as the Bible declares He is, then He IS all powerful and CAN make this sort of thing happen.

Yes, we are running ahead of our verses above, but we need to get this out into the open as early as possible, because it actually affects all of our thinking. Check it again: you either deny that Mary conceived Jesus supernaturally or you accept the story above. In the light of what we’ve just said about God, you either don’t believe in the possibility of this Supreme Being (so why are you reading about Him?) or you do accept the possibility and therefore must accept the possibility of the virgin conception. If you accept that, you won’t have any problems with the appearance of an angel. You may remember we encountered Gabriel two meditations back, but rather took him for granted. Well we’re not taking him for granted now. We’re thinking about the possibility of angels!

If you start out with acceptance of the possibility of a Supreme Being, who is described in the Bible, then talk of heavenly beings called angels is valid as well, even if we personally have never encountered one. Now we say all this because the talk of angels leaves some of us thinking about this story in the same way we think about fairy stories – that it’s just a nice made up story for the children. No it’s not; that’s the point we’re making. We’re talking about down-to-earth space-time history. It happened just like the text says.

Now this is somewhat crucial to our beliefs generally, and the key question is, could God turn up in this girl’s life like this and transform it? The follow-up question must therefore be, can God turn up and bring changes to my life? This is what the Christmas story is all about. This is why it is so important in the Christian calendar. It is all about revealing the God who ‘turns up’ and does things. If He could do it for them, He can surely come and bring changes to our lives today. This is the critical issue under consideration. So, can He turn up for you – today? It was via an angel for Mary, but it could be in a variety of ways for you! Well, can He?

6. Locked in Unbelief

ADVENT MEDITATIONS No.6

6. Long-Term Unhappiness Locks in Unbelief

Luke 1:18-20 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” The angel answered, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.”

It’s a strange thing, but you might think that people who have a tough time in life would be really grateful when God turns up to bless them, but you would often be mistaken. We’ve already referred to that tendency that we all have, that the Bible calls ‘Sin’, and in such situations it frequently shows itself in ungratefulness or unbelief.  If we can put it gently, perhaps we might say that it is quite natural, after you’ve been in a particular prison for any length of time, to be wary when you’re told you’re now free from it.  This phenomenon is quite common, and it may be as you read yesterday’s meditation, you struggled with the concept that God is good.  If you did, it’s most likely that it is simply because you’ve lived with circumstances that seem to fly in the face of that.

In the Old Testament, Gideon is a classic example of this. An angel comes and tells him that God is with him (Judges 6:12). His reply is, “If the Lord is with us… where are all the wonders that our fathers told us about?” In other words, how can you say God is good, how can you say He’s with us, when I’ve been through what I’ve been through, and there’s still no sign of change? Do you see how long-term unhappiness over the past can lock us into unbelief in the present?

Now the interesting thing, when Zechariah responds like this, is that he’s not given an explanation why he didn’t have children. We’d like to have explanations and then come to belief, but it doesn’t work like that. The truth is that until our hearts can accept God’s love is there for us, we’re going to constantly criticize and grumble. Zechariah is still in grumbling mode when he basically says, this is stupid, this can’t be, because I’m too old. When we start telling God what He can’t do, we’re in trouble! God can do anything; it’s just our unbelief that thinks He can’t, so we reject His words of goodness towards us.

The angel’s response is basically this: OK, you don’t think God can change your circumstances, you don’t think God can make you become a father, you want a sign, I can see that. All right, I’ll give you a sign that will remain with you every day until the child is born – you won’t be able to speak until then. This is going to happen, you having a son, but you obviously need a bit of encouragement along the way.

You see God loves us so much that sometimes He does intervene in our lives and bring ‘unusual’ circumstances, if He sees that is the only way we’ll come to belief. (There are some people He sees that won’t ever come to belief so He leaves them – but that doesn’t include you, because you wouldn’t be reading this if it did!). If a little crisis is the only thing that will bring us to our senses and bring us to a place of believing (and that without the explanations!) then that’s what He’ll bring to us – in love of course. Of course it’s in love because that’s what He’s trying to bring us. It’s much easier to believe without a crisis! Can we say, yes Lord, I believe what I’m reading in this Christmas story – teach me; I receive all the good you’ve got for me in this season? Dare to, go for it!

Wrong Circumstances?

Lk 1:26-30   In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God.
  
From Zechariah, for a moment the focus turns to Mary. There is a difficulty with this passage: it is so well known that it is difficult to get behind the words that are read in so many carol services every Christmas! There is actually another difficulty when you are doing a meditation in a series: it has a lot of similarities with the previous episode involving Zechariah and the angel Gabriel.  Nevertheless we look to see what stands out in this passage in this reading.
   
Strangely it is the observation that the angel is named. In the previous encounter his name didn’t come out until he himself revealed who he was (1:19). Gabriel appeared to Daniel (Dan 8:16, 9:21). Thus there are two mentions of him in Daniel and two in Luke 1, but no other reference in the Bible. In this passage it is Luke who tells us who he was although he doesn’t say Gabriel told Mary who he was. Presumably Mary later spoke with Zechariah and ‘compared notes’, and she subsequently tells Luke. Suffice it to say he appears a significant angel in God’s angelic host who has been entrusted with this activity of informing two people of the children they will have. Again we note that God didn’t just speak to Mary in her mind or in a dream. He made the communication much more tangible. It is such an important communication it must be done in a very memorable way.
    
Mary is a young girl getting ready to be married. Much is made about her being a virgin. Interestingly it was Matthew who linked her to the Isaiah prophecy (Mt 1:22,23, Isa 7:14) not Luke, yet Luke has her pointing out the fact. That she was, is certain, for in such a strict society there would not have been pre-marital sex as there is so commonly today, especially from a pious young woman, as she obviously is. She is pledged to be married to Joseph, a descendant of David. This is stronger than our ‘engaged’ but less than actual marriage.
    
When the angel greets her he says, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.Now Mary’s response is interesting. She was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. I suspect that her wondering comprised a number of questions which would flash through her mind. I am highly favoured? What does that mean? The Lord is with me? What does that mean? I am not conscious of God’s special presence. What can all this mean? She doesn’t say anything but the angel sees that she is perplexed and reassures her: Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. There it is again. She has found favour with God. Why? How? What does this mean? We’ll see the explanations given later.
    
Mary being greatly troubled possibly comes more out of feelings of being unworthy more than anything else. It is a most common reaction. Most of us when God comes and says really good things, if we are honest, think, “Has God made a mistake? Has He got the right person?” And of course He has got the right person!
    
I always like the angel’s greeting to Gideon, found in Judges 6: “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.” (v.12). There is no doubt whatsoever that Gideon thinks he’s got it wrong. He’s hiding away from an enemy who are oppressing his people, and ‘mighty warrior’ is the last thing he feels like. But that’s the point; he’s not yet, but that’s what God sees he will become.
     
That’s our difficulty when God speaks like this. When God speaks to us, whether apparently as we’re reading the Bible, praying, listening to a sermon, or even if someone brings a word to us, if that word is a word of encouragement speaking of how the Lord sees us, we struggle and say, “I’m not like that” but the truth is that God sees that that is how He plans for us to be. So next time it happens, respond positively and say, “Thank you Lord, that that is what you plan for me to be. Let it be!”
     
So the angel tells Mary that she is highly favoured. This simply means that the Lord thinks she’s the right person! She is special in that He has chosen her to bear His Son. Everything about her says that she is going to become a good mum for Jesus. Never heard it put like that? Well that’s what this is all about. If you’re a Mum, take it that you’re the right one for your children. You’ve got what it takes to be what they need. With God’s help it doesn’t matter what comes along, you can do it. You may think little of yourself but God thinks more of you. After all He knows what He can do with you in the days ahead. Have fun! Become the person He’s designed you to be!